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Academie Francaise

Written By: VeronicaSimon on December 11, 2009 1 Comment

Hello world! I’m another French 24 student and my research project was on the Academie Francaise. The Academy was actually the reason why I joined this particular freshman seminar – I had thought, mistakenly, that as it was put on by the French Department of Berkeley, the class would have a focus on French language specifically. The material was interesting regardless, but French will always hold a special place in my heart.

What is l’Academie Francaise? Quite simply it is a group of French literary intellectuals who seek to prevent the anglicization of the French language. Their original purpose however, was to regulate French and to hand out awards for the best of French literature.  Their mission statement:

“La principale fonction de l’Académie sera de travailler, avec tout le soin et toute la diligence possibles, à donner des règles certaines à notre langue et à la rendre pure, éloquente et capable de traiter les arts et les sciences.”

Members are called “les immortels” and currently 38 of the 40 seats are filled.

According to the Academy, globalization of the world is the biggest threat facing French today. Because of how easily information travels from one end of the globe to another, foreign terms for new concepts and technologies have snuck into France faster than the Academy can rename them. As technology is developed in anglophone countries, more and more English words specifically are slipping into everyday French vocabulary. Such words include e-mail, start-up company, and several internet chatspeak variations such as ‘lol’. The academy has composed their own “acceptable” terms such as courriel for email, imprimante for printer, and jeune-pousse for start-up company.

However, just because the Academy declares it so, does not mean that the rest of France adheres to these laws. For one thing, it’s nearly impossible to enforce. Most of the younger generation in France choose to use the English forms of words, but there does exist in France those who look down upon any English at all in their language, though that number is few.

The Academy rarely makes national headline news in France, but when it does you can be certain it won’t be in a positive light. Several times in the recent past, the Academy has been criticised for behaving too conservatively. They were harshly judged for officializing the female equivalents for male domiinated professions, and they received flak for their opposition to the movement to give regional languages in France constitutional protection. Most recently, the Academy has been discussed as a dying beast. Francois Busnel remarked that the Academy is, “like that of a fat, blind, suicidal whale stubbornly determined to beach itself on a rocky coast with everyone watching.” The Academy has also had problems in the past with electing new immortals because of how much they view this as a position of power and importance. Every member must be painstakingly picked over before admittance. This also means though, that they are often understaffed. In 2008, for example, the Academy had only 33 of the possible 40 members which is more than a 20% decrease.

The question now is whether such an Academy is needed. Languages change over the years regardless of any effort to halt such change. Even English has experienced a vast metamorphasis from Ye Olden Times. Remember too, that French used to be the dominant language of Europe. Under Louis the Sun King, French was more widely spoken than any language in the world. Languages have periods of popularity, and it just so happens that English is in its own golden period now. No one can be sure how long that will last though…


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One Response to “Academie Francaise”

  1. bkwerrum854 on: 8 January 2010 at 9:14 am

    this is a great blog. You raise some interesting questions.
    Having studied French at uni (many years ago) it has always puzzled me about quite how protective some of the French are about their language. Why get insensed about saying ‘casse-croûte’ rather than ‘sandwich’? Considering that English is increasingly becoming the lingua franca of the world I think that non English speaking nations do need to take measures to promote their languages in order to ensure their own cultures have enough space to develope. I do however think that the French ‘Academie Francaise’ needs to untighten its grip a bit, if it is to achieve this aim. Languages are a bit like children, if you mollycoddle them too much they do not develope into healthy beings. Ps : I am still a bit unsure about exactly what it is you are studying and would be interested to find out more.

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